Let's Preserve: Cherries

Freezing and canning methods for sweet or sour cherries are explained. Select freshly harvested cherries with deep, uniform color and ideal maturity for eating fresh. Don’t delay preserving them, with or without seeds.
Let's Preserve: Cherries - Articles


Recommended Varieties

All sweet or sour cherries can be used.


A lug weighs 25 pounds and yields 8 to 12 quarts. An average of 17 1/2 pounds makes a 7-quart canner load; 11 pounds makes 9 pints. An average of 1⅜ pounds makes 1 pint of frozen cherries.


Select freshly harvested cherries with deep, uniform color and ideal maturity for eating fresh. Don't delay preserving them, with or without seeds.


Stem and wash. Pit if desired. If pitted, immediately place cherries into cold water containing 1 teaspoon of powdered ascorbic acid or six 500-milligram vitamin C tablets per gallon to prevent stem end discoloration. If preserved unpitted, prick skins on opposite sides with a clean needle to prevent splitting.

Freezing Procedure

Don't freeze more than 2 pounds of food per cubic foot of freezer capacity per day. Cherries may be packed with syrup or dry sugar.

To Make a Syrup Pack

  1. Mix and dissolve 2½ cups of sugar in 4 cups of water for sour cherries; or mix 1¼ cups of sugar in 4 cups of water for sweet cherries.
  2. Add 1 cup of syrup to each quart of prepared cherries.

To Make a Dry Sugar Pack

  1. Mix ⅔ cup of dry sugar per quart of sour cherries or ⅓ cup of sugar per quart of sweet cherries.
  2. Mix until sugar dissolves.

To Package Syrup or Dry Pack Cherries

  1. Fill pint or quart plastic freezer containers or tapered freezer jars.
  2. Allow ½ inch of headspace for dry sugar pack.
  3. Allow 1 inch of headspace for syrup pack in quarts and ½ inch in pints.

To Freeze without Sugar

Cherries, pitted or with pits, may be frozen without sugar, in water, unsweetened fruit juice, or dry, but the texture will be softer when thawed. Sweet cherries may be frozen in a single layer on shallow trays before packing into containers or zip-type plastic bags to prevent them from sticking together. Individually frozen cherries can be served frozen as a snack or thawed and used as a topping for salads and desserts.

Canning Procedure

  1. Wash jars.
  2. Prepare lids according to manufacturer's instructions.
  3. Cherries in jars may be covered with your choice of water, apple or white grape juice, or, more commonly, a very light, light, or medium syrup.

A medium syrup is suggested for sour cherries, and a very light syrup for sweet cherries.

To make a very light syrup for a canner load of quarts

  1. Mix 1¼ cups of sugar in 10½ cups of water and heat to dissolve
  2. Mix and dissolve 2¼ cups of sugar in 9 cups of water to make a light syrup


  1. Mix 3¾ cups of sugar in 8¼ cups of water to make a medium syrup.

To Make a Hot Pack

  1. Place drained cherries in boiling syrup, juice, or water and bring to a boil.
  2. Fill clean jars with hot cherries and cooking liquid, leaving ½ inch of headspace.

To Make a Raw Pack

Fill jars with drained cherries and cover with your choice of boiling liquid, leaving ½ inch of headspace.

  • Remove air bubbles
  • Wipe the sealing edge with a clean, damp paper towel
  • Add lids and tighten screw bands
  • You may process jars in a boiling water or pressure canner

To Process in a Boiling Water Canner

  1. Preheat canner filled halfway with water to 180°F for hot packs or 140°F for raw packs.
  2. Load sealed jars into the canner rack and lower with handles, or load one jar at a time with a jar lifter onto rack in canner.
  3. Add water, if needed, to 1 inch above jars and cover.
  4. When water boils vigorously, lower heat to maintain a gentle boil and process for recommended time.
  5. After processing is complete, set canner off heat and remove canner lid.
  6. Wait 5 minutes before removing jars and placing on a towel or rack.
  7. Do not retighten screw bands.
  8. Air-cool jars for 12 to 24 hours.
  9. Remove screw bands and check lid seals.

If the center of the lid is indented, wash, dry, label, and store jar in a clean, cool, dark place.

If lid is unsealed, examine and replace jar if defective, use new lid, and reprocess as before. Wash bands and store separately.

Cherries are best if consumed within one year and are safe as long as lids remain vacuum sealed.

To Process in a Pressure Canner

  1. Place the jar rack, 2 inches of water, and sealed jars in canner.
  2. Fasten lids, and heat canner on high setting.
  3. After exhausting steam for 10 minutes, add weighted gauge or close petcock to pressurize the canner.
  4. Start timing the recommended process time when the desired pressure is reached.
  5. Regulate heat to maintain a uniform pressure.
  6. When processing is complete, remove canner from heat.
  7. Air-cool canner until it is fully depressurized.
  8. Then slowly remove weighed gauge or open petcock, wait 10 more minutes, and unfasten and carefully remove canner lid.
  9. After processing is complete, remove jars from canner with jar lifter and place on a towel or rack.
  10. Finish cooling and storing as directed in processing in a boiling water canner above.
Table 1. Recommended process times in a boiling water canner at designated altitudes. Process time (in minutes) at altitudes of:
Style of packJar size0-1,000 ft1,001-3,000 ft3,001-6,000 ftAbove 6,000 ft
RawPints or quarts20253540
Table 2. Recommended process times in a pressure canner at designated altitudes. Canner gauge pressure (in pounds) at altitudes of:
Style of packJar sizeProcess time (min)0-2,000 ft2,001-4,000 ft.4,001-6,000 ft6,001-8,000 ft.
Dial gauge canner:
Raw or hotPints or quarts106789
Weighted gauge canner:
Style of packJar sizeProcess time (min)0-1,000 ftAbove 1,000 ft
Raw or hotPints or quarts10510

Prepared by Luke LaBorde, associate professor of food science; Nancy Wiker, senior extension educator; and Martha Zepp, extension project assistant.